Book jacket design is an ever interesting topic which exhibits an often sharp difference of aesthetics among its practitioners. I have written about it before in interviewing Peter Mendelsund about his designs for a recent edition of Kafka’s works. On his own blog Mendelsund has recently offered an insider’s view of designing book covers in an ongoing series of essays, using the diverse covers for Nabokov’s Lolita as a test case. Even Nabokov had his favorite and less favorite covers of his best-known novel.
Over at The Millions C. Max Magee has an article comparing US and UK book covers, and I thought I would add to the comparative debate by looking at international covers of a few books that I’ve reviewed or will be reviewing on literalab.
The covers of crime novels are often cinematic, and for this 30s mystery (that is being filmed in Hungary) this was an even more logical approach to take. The original Hungarian edition cover, which I like the best actually looks like a film still and the Polish runner-up equally evokes the shadow-filled era the novel is set in.
The US cover is a striking combination of images, while the Dutch and French aim, effectively I think, for atmosphere.
The German and Italian editions are the simplest and weakest of the bunch, neither connecting to the aesthetic of the novel.
The Prague Cemetery
This is the case of a cover being more evocative than the book (in my opinion, at least). Surprisingly, only the Dutch edition opted for the atmospheric Old Jewish Cemetery itself, though the plainer Turkish edition cover has what might be the Prague cemetery in the background of its top-hatted silhouette.
Both the UK and US editions make good use of simple designs. In fact the silhouette in the center of the UK edition is virtually identical to the design that served as a catch-all for the Mediterranean countries except that its hat is different. The German edition above opts for simplicity as well, though again not as effectively I think.
My next review will be of the English-language edition of Andrei Gelasimov’s novel Thirst. Of the three books noted here this one has led to the most diverse jacket designs. I find the US cover with the vodka bottle containing a manned tank to be by far the strongest.
At the other end of the spectrum I don’t have a clue what the Italian edition’s close-up of an ear refers to, while the fat man getting drunk on the Israeli edition’s cover looks like a typical scene in the Prague bars I pass by daily. The French cover of a drawing of a bald Asian man is also mystifying (did I miss that part of the book?).
The Catalan edition is visually compelling but no more clearly related to Gelasimov’s novel, while of the two Russian versions I prefer the Arcimboldo imitation to the more Hollywood-movie poster style Hand of God cover, which also looks like it might be for an entirely different novel. The Spanish cover indicates the alcohol theme, but not much else, while the German cover is more multidimensional, if not terribly original.